It’s 9:00 pm and we’re relaxing in our little hot tub in our cabin on the side of the mountain. Above us is nothing but twinkling stars and below us is nothing but wild forest. Somewhere nearby we hear an owl as it flies through the valley. In the distance we see the outlines of mountain peaks, just barely visible in the moonlit night.
This is as close to paradise as we may ever get on this Earth.
I’m not sure why, but the mountains seem to call to me. They make me calm. They remind me of how small my problems are in this big, big world.
They fill me with joy and I leave refreshed.
So when Brian and I began planning a One Year Anniversary trip we knew exactly where we wanted to go: The Great Smoky Mountains.
Impressive mountains, cozy cabins, and a slower pace of life make the Smoky Mountains the perfect destination for a romantic getaway with your spouse. After a few days in the mountains you will feel like I did; Like you have it all. Whether walking hand in hand down a quiet mountain path or through the busy streets of Gatlinburg you will find happiness in reconnecting with the one you love.
I’ve been to the mountains many times over the years but this was my first trip with Brian. Today I am going to share some of our favorite places in the Smokies as well as a few things you need to consider before you go.
When planning a trip to the Smokies the first thing you need to consider is where you will stay. Do a quick internet search and you will see that there are literally thousands of options when it comes to lodging. Here are a few questions that you need to ask yourself before you choose your lodging.
- Do I want to stay in a cabin, condo, or hotel? If you are going for romance and seclusion then a cabin is probably the right choice for you. Cabins are often further from town but closer to picturesque mountain views. If you are looking for luxury then you may want to stay in a hotel or condo. Both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are surrounded by hotels. In you are planning on spending a lot of time in Gatlinburg where parking is quite expensive then you’ll want to find a room within walking distance of the strip.
- Where do I want to be? If you plan on spending most of your romantic getaway in the Great Smoky Mountain Park then you’ll want to find a place closer to the park entrance. Traffic in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg can be very heavy during the Summer and Autumn seasons. If you want to spend more time in town then pick a location near Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. Either way, you don’t want to spend half of your vacation sitting in traffic.
- What do I want most out of my lodging? We knew right away what was most important for us. We wanted a cabin with a great view, close to Gatlinburg and the park entrance, and a hot tub. There are so many places to stay that once you really narrow it down you’ll have an easier time finding the right place for you. Also decide on a budget and consider the amenities provided in your stay. Some places will give you tickets to area shows and attractions if you stay with them and deals like that can really save you a lot of money so it’s something to consider.
- What am I willing to sacrifice? You may have a beautiful mountain view but have to drive up a terrible gravel mountain road to get there. You might save a bunch of money by staying further away from the mountains but you’ll lose the great view and have to deal with traffic.
In the end it’s all about what you want most. Brian and I choose Alpine Vista- a lovely little cabin with an amazing view. It had the hot tub that we wanted and a great view of the mountains. We could even see Gatlinburg in the distance. The road that we had to drive up to get to the cabin was crazy but once we got to the top of the mountain and saw our view and that there were only about 5 other cabin on our mountain we decided that it was worth it. We were only about a mile’s drive from Gatlinburg. We could even see the mountains from our bed in the loft.
In case you can’t tell, I think you should spend your romantic getaway in a cozy little cabin!
In Gatlinburg and in Pigeon Forge you will find no shortage of restaurants. If you stay in a cabin you can save money by eating there. Here are a few of our favorite options for dining in the Smoky Mountains.
- The Pancake Pantry. The Pancake Pantry is located in Gatlinburg right next to an arts and crafts shopping area called The Village. They have some of the best pancakes in the world. I really believe that! I ordered the Cinnamon Cream Pancakes and Brian had the Chocolate Chip. They are a little bit indulgent but totally worth the trip and the money.
2. The Old Mill. The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge is a classic. They serve southern favorites that will not leave you disappointed. The mill is actually a working gristmill on the banks of the Little Pigeon River. You cannot miss this restaurant!
3. Any Island Restaurants. The Island is a fancy new shopping area in Pigeon Forge packed with famous restaurants. Among the restaurants are Paula Deen’s Kitchen, Margaritaville, Timberwood Grill, and Dick’s Last Resort. We ate at the Timberwood grill and it was delicious. After dinner check out the fountain show. It’s especially lovely at night. Oh, and The Island has free parking.
4. Make your own Meal in your Cabin. If you rent a cabin or a condo with a kitchen then you can eat at ‘home.’ There are grocery stores around if you look for them or pack your food in the cooler. I planned several quick and easy meals that we could make at the cabin. You may even have a grill depending on where you stay.
5. Pack a Picnic. What’s more romantic than a picnic under the mountains? My favorite picnic area is the Rocky Top Picnic Area in the Great Smoky Mountain Park. We actually took our cooler with us and ate sandwiches once a day. This saves time and money since just ate wherever we were. However, if you are picnicking in the park be sure to follow park rules and dispose of food properly so you won’t upset the wildlife.
If you are new to the Great Smoky Mountains then your first stop should probably be a Visitor’s Center. My favorite is the Sugarland’s Visitor Center. Here you can get a park map and recommendations on which trails and park areas are right for your family. Some roads are closed during the winter so you’ll want to consider that.
Once again, here are my recommendations for your romantic getaway.
- Rocky Top Picnic Area. This is a great place for a picnic and also a little fun. A creek full of rocks runs along the picnic area and it is truly a nature’s playground.
2. Cade’s Cove. You just can’t visit the Smokies without visiting Cade’s Cove. This Valley is surrounded by breathtaking mountain views, historical building, waterfall hikes and more. This is often your best bet for seeing black bears. This is an 11 mile loop so be sure to plan accordingly.
3. Roaring Fork Motor Trail. The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is similar to Cade’s Cove but takes you high into the mountains. While on this 5.5 miles loop you will have to drive on a one lane road high in the mountains. It’s a little scary but worth it. Along the trail you’ll see historical buildings and waterfalls. The trailhead for Grotto Falls is along this road and it’s definitely worth the 1.5 mile hike. If you plan to go there arrive early as parking near the trailhead is limited. We had to skip the hike because there wasn’t a place to park.
4. Clingmans Dome. Clingmans dome is the tallest mountain in the park. You can drive almost all the way to the top but will have park and hike the last ½ mile straight up the mountain to the observation deck. On a clear day the view is absolutely amazing.
Attractions and Events
Before you go check out the Great Smoky Mountain event calendar to see what events will be happening during your trip. From dinner shows to putt-putt golf there is something for everyone in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Once again, you won’t able to do everything so decide what is right for you. Here are a few of the attractions that we loved.
- Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. This aquarium is simply amazing. You’ll spend much of your visit under thick glass tunnels watching sharks, sea turtles, and other aquatic life swimming around you. The price is a little high in my opinion, but it’s worth visiting once.
2. Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster. The Alpine Coaster allows you to coast down the mountain at the speed of light. I actually haven’t done this yet but it’s on my list for next time.
3. Dollywood. Oh Dollywood! This little theme park is full of heart. It has a variety of coasters, shops, restaurants, history, and of course, Dolly Parton’s own special touch. I’ll be writing about this in more depth on Friday so be sure to check back
4. Gatlinburg. Downtown Gatlinburg is full of shops, restaurants, attractions, and mountain views. Plan some time during your romantic getaway to wander through Gatlinburg. Everything on the Gatlinbrug strip is within walking distance and we found that parking a little further away from the main road saved us a little money on parking. From here you can ride the Ski lifts or the Space Needle up to get a better look at the surrounding mountains.
I am so glad that Brian and I chose to celebrate our First Anniversary in the Smoky Mountains. I will never forget that mountain view or the thrill of seeing a waterfall. A romantic getaway to the Smoky Mountains will not disappoint!
Have you ever been to the Smokies? What is your favorite thing to do there? If not, where do you like to vacation?